On 15th May 1944, Auschwitz Commander Rudolf Höss gave the order for the killing of the entire ‘Gypsy Family Camp’, in order to house a new consignment of Hungarian Jewish prisoners. SS Officer Georg Bonigut, despite his role as commander of the Romani camp, appears to have had some sympathy for the prisoners, and warned them that the entire camp was soon to be massacred and that they should resist at all costs.
Assembling whatever weaponry they could muster, including shovels, pipes and stones, the 6,500 remaining inmates prepared to face down the troops who would escort them to certain death. Some of the German Sinti prisoners had previously served in the Wehrmacht, and had therefore had some combat training.
When the 50 to 60 SS troops arrived, they were astonished to find that the residents had barricaded themselves into their accommodation and were refusing to come out when ordered.
As Hugo Höllenreiner, then 10 years old, recalled:
Dad shouted out - the whole building trembled when he shouted - 'We're not coming out! You come in here! We're waiting here! If you want something, you have to come inside!'
The shock factor clearly worked, as the heavily-armed guards departed without firing a shot, despite massively outgunning the rebellion.
Moreover, the immediate threat was withdrawn and the Family Camp was to survive for another three months. On 2nd August, having gradually separated all working-age inmates from the rest, the order was finally given for the liquidation of the remaining inmates, primarily women, children, the elderly and infirm.
The brave stand of the Family Camp against all possible odds has become a focal point of commemoration, with May 16th known as ‘Romani Resistance Day’.